|This morning's owl.|
It's been more than a week since I have seen any activity at the owl nest. It was Saturday night, March 1, when an owl flew out of the nest around 6 in the evening just as Doug and I were approaching on the evening dog walk. The next night, I heard hooting coming from a stand of pines nearby, but I couldn't find either owl. And that's been how it's gone it ever since--occasional hooting, occasional sightings of owls in trees, but nothing at all at the nest.
Up until a week ago, I could persuade myself that I could see movement inside the cavity where the nest supposedly is. A couple of times I saw a small feather, waving from a shard of wood at the entrance, pulled from an owl, most likely, as it was coming or going.
But now I am beginning to worry. Did the pair produce a clutch of eggs? Did the eggs hatch? Are the owlets viable, and growing? Will they be branching soon? Or is the nest abandoned and empty, the owlets dead, the eggs stolen by raccoons?
There is probably no good reason for my fretting, other than the fact that I am a natural-born fretter. But my nervousness has been exacerbated by a series of e-mails from a photographer who had staked out the nest last year and got glorious, beautiful shots of the branched owlets and the parents. (He also has wonderful photos from elsewhere around the Cities--great shots of four pileated babies, poking their heads out of the nests, screaming for food; other owls; other birds.)
He emailed me this week and said he had not seen any activity at the nest for more than a week, and he was concerned. Previously, he said, he had been able to see ear tufts when he aimed his spotting scope at the nest cavity, but lately he's seen nothing.
|The nest in the cavity of the silver maple, with one of last year's owlets|
poking his head out the day before he branched. The second owlet
had already branched and was hiding behind the jagged back of the nest.
The nest is in the cavity of a broken-off branch of a silver maple tree, probably 20 feet up from the ground. It angles sharply down, and unless something has its head poking out of the hole it's not possible to see what, if anything, is inside. Every day, I stare up from the walking path, but all I see is darkness and, as I mentioned, the occasional waving feather.
The photographer's e-mails so worried me that I consulted with neighbors who are also besotted with the owls. One woman said she saw an owl fly to the nest tree on Wednesday but not actually go inside the nest. She, too, has heard the hooting at night. But nobody has seen any activity coming or going from the actual nest.
So now I am on fretful, worried owl watch. Last night, the dogs and I heard hooting from the pines by the frog pond, just a few yards west of the nesting tree. We wandered over there and found dozens of owl pellets in the snow, but couldn't spot the owl. As we were walking away, we heard response hooting coming from a stand of pines just east of the nest; if you were to draw a straight line between the two stands of pines, the nesting tree would be in the middle. Surely the owls wouldn't be staying so close if there weren't owlets?
But who knows? Great-horned owls are territorial, and this is their territory.
This morning we walked past the nest again, and I stood on the path and stared up at the dark cavity. Nothing. No motion, no feathers, no mom flying in with a rabbit or a rat. Is anybody in there? I asked aloud. Last year's owlets branched at the very end of March, so I have two or three or even four weeks to wait to get my answer.
As we continued along the path toward home, I looked up and saw an adult owl in one of the pines right in front of me. Is there anyone in the nest? I asked.
That owl knows. He knows for sure. But he's not saying.